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Europe (Listeni/ˈjʊərəp/ EWR-əp or /ˈjɜrəp/ YUR-əp[1]) is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally divided from Asia by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting the Black and Aegean Seas.[2]

Europe is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Black Sea and connected waterways to the southeast. Yet the borders of Europe—a concept dating back to classical antiquity—are somewhat arbitrary, as the primarily physiographic term "continent" can incorporate cultural and political elements.

Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering about 10,180,000 square kilometres (3,930,000 sq mi) or 2% of the Earth's surface and about 6.8% of its land area. Of Europe's approximately 50 states, Russia is by far the largest by both area and population, taking up 40% of the continent (although the country has territory in both Europe and Asia), while Vatican City is the smallest. Europe is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of 733 million or about 11% of the world's population.[3]

Europe, in particular Ancient Greece, is the birthplace of Western culture.[4] It played a predominant role in global affairs from the 15th century onwards, especially after the beginning of colonialism. Between the 16th and 20th centuries, European nations controlled at various times the Americas, most of Africa, Oceania, and large portions of Asia. In 1900, Europe's share of the world's population was 25%.[5]

Both World Wars were largely focused upon Europe, greatly contributing to a decline in Western European dominance in world affairs by the mid-20th century as the United States and Soviet Union took prominence.[6] During the Cold War, Europe was divided along the Iron Curtain between NATO in the west and the Warsaw Pact in the east. European integration led to the formation of the Council of Europe and the European Union in Western Europe, both of which have been expanding eastward since the revolutions of 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Further information: List of countries spanning more than one continent
Further information: Borders of the continents
Reconstruction of Herodotus' world map
A medieval T and O map from 1472 showing the division of the world into 3 continents
Europa regina map from Münster (1570). The British Isles and Scandinavia are not included in Europe proper.

The use of the term "Europe" has developed gradually throughout history.[7][8] In antiquity, the Greek historian Herodotus mentioned that the world had been divided by unknown persons into three parts, Europe, Asia, and Libya (Africa), with the Nile and the River Phasis forming their boundaries—though he also states that some considered the River Don, rather than the Phasis, as the boundary between Europe and Asia.[9] Europe's eastern frontier was defined in the 1st century by geographer Strabo at the River Don.[10] Flavius and the Book of Jubilees described the continents as the lands given by Noah to his three sons; Europe was defined as stretching from the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibraltar, separating it from North Africa, to the Don, separating it from Asia.[11]

A cultural definition of Europe as the lands of Latin Christendom coalesced in the 8th century, signifying the new cultural condominium created through the confluence of Germanic traditions and Christian-Latin culture, defined partly in contrast with Byzantium and Islam, and limited to northern Iberia, the British Isles, France, Christianized western Germany, the Alpine regions and northern and central Italy.[12] The concept is one of the lasting legacies of the Carolingian Renaissance: "Europa" often figures in the letters of Charlemagne's cultural minister, Alcuin.[13] This division—as much cultural as geographical—was used until the Late Middle Ages, when it was challenged by the Age of Discovery.[14][15][why?] The problem of redefining Europe was finally resolved in 1730 when, instead of waterways, the Swedish geographer and cartographer von Strahlenberg proposed the Ural Mountains as the most significant eastern boundary, a suggestion that found favour in Russia and throughout Europe.[16]

Europe is now generally defined by geographers as the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, with its boundaries marked by large bodies of water to the north, west and south; Europe's limits to the far east are usually taken to be the Urals, the Ural River, and the Caspian Sea; to the south-east, including the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea and the waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.[17] Because of sociopolitical and cultural differences, there are various descriptions of Europe's boundary. For example, Cyprus is approximate to Anatolia (or Asia Minor), but is usually considered part of Europe and currently is a member state of the EU. In addition, Malta was considered an island of North Africa for centuries,[18] while Iceland, though nearer to Greenland (North America), is also generally included in Europe.

Sometimes, the word 'Europe' is used in a geopolitically limiting way[19] to refer only to the European Union or, even more exclusively, a culturally defined core. On the other hand, the Council of Europe has 47 member countries, and only 27 member states are in the EU.[20] In addition, people living in areas such as Ireland, the United Kingdom, the North Atlantic and Mediterranean islands and also in Scandinavia may routinely refer to "continental" or "mainland" Europe simply as Europe or "the Continent".[21]

Clickable map of Europe, showing one of the most commonly used continental boundaries[22]
Key: blue: states which straddle the border between Europe and Asia; green: states not geographically in Europe, but closely associated politically[23]
Greenland (Dk)
S. Mar.
Svalbard (Nor)
Far. (Dk)

Arctic Ocean
Barents Sea
Bay of
Greenland Sea
Baffin Bay
Gulf of
Mediterranean Sea
Strait of Gibraltar
Europa and the bull on a Greek vase. Tarquinia Museum, circa 480 BC

In ancient Greek mythology, Europa was a Phoenician princess whom Zeus abducted after assuming the form of a dazzling white bull. He took her to the island of Crete where she gave birth to Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon. For Homer, Europe (Ancient Greek: Εὐρώπη, Eurṓpē; see also List of Greek place names) was a mythological queen of Crete, not a geographical designation.

The etymology of Europa is uncertain.[24] One theory suggests that it is derived from the Greek εὐρύς (eurus), meaning "wide, broad"[25] and ὤψ/ὠπ-/ὀπτ- (ōps/ōp-/opt-), meaning "eye, face, countenance",[26] hence Eurṓpē, "wide-gazing", "broad of aspect" (compare with glaukōpis (γλαυκῶπις 'grey-eyed') Athena or boōpis (βοὠπις 'ox-eyed') Hera). Broad has been an epithet of Earth itself in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European religion.[27] Another theory suggests that it is based on a Semitic word such as the Akkadian erebu meaning "to go down, set" (cf. Occident),[28] cognate to Phoenician 'ereb "evening; west" and Arabic Maghreb, Hebrew ma'ariv (see also Erebus, PIE *h1regʷos, "darkness"). However, Martin Litchfield West states that "phonologically, the match between Europa's name and any form of the Semitic word is very poor".[29]

Whatever the origin of the name of the mythological figure, Εὐρώπη is first used as a geographical term in the 6th century BC, by Greek geographers such as Anaximander and Hecataeus. Anaximander placed the boundary between Asia and Europe along the Phasis River (the modern Rioni) in the Caucasus, a convention still followed by Herodotus in the 5th century BC.[30] But the convention received by the Middle Ages and surviving into modern usage is that of the Roman era used by Roman era authors such as Posidonius,[31] Strabo[32] and Ptolemy,[33] who took the Tanais (the modern Don River) as the boundary. The term "Europe" is first used for a cultural sphere in the Carolingian Renaissance of the 9th century. From that time, the term designated the sphere of influence of the Western Church, as opposed to both the Eastern Orthodox churches and to the Islamic world. The modern convention, enlarging the area of "Europe" somewhat to the east and the south-east, develops in the 19th century.

Most major world languages use words derived from "Europa" to refer to the "continent" (peninsula). Chinese, for example, uses the word Ōuzhōu (歐洲); this term is also used by the European Union in Japanese-language diplomatic relations, despite the katakana Yōroppa (ヨーロッパ?) being more commonly used. However, in some Turkic languages the originally Persian name Frangistan (land of the Franks) is used casually in referring to much of Europe, besides official names such as Avrupa or Evropa.[34]
Main article: History of Europe
Main article: Prehistoric Europe
Ġgantija, Malta
The Lady of Vinča, neolithic pottery from Serbia
Stonehenge, England
The Nebra sky disk from Bronze age Germany

Homo georgicus, which lived roughly 1.8 million years ago in Georgia, is the earliest hominid to have been discovered in Europe.[35] Other hominid remains, dating back roughly 1 million years, have been discovered in Atapuerca, Spain.[36] Neanderthal man (named for the Neandertal valley in Germany) appeared in Europe 150,000 years ago and disappeared from the fossil record about 28,000 BC, with this extinction probably due to climate change, and their final refuge being present-day Portugal. The Neanderthals were supplanted by modern humans (Cro-Magnons), who appeared in Europe around 43 to 40 thousand years ago.[37]

The European Neolithic period—marked by the cultivation of crops and the raising of livestock, increased numbers of settlements and the widespread use of pottery—began around 7000 BC in Greece and the Balkans, probably influenced by earlier farming practices in Anatolia and the Near East. It spread from the Balkans along the valleys of the Danube and the Rhine (Linear Pottery culture) and along the Mediterranean coast (Cardial culture). Between 4500 and 3000 BC, these central European neolithic cultures developed further to the west and the north, transmitting newly acquired skills in producing copper artefacts. In Western Europe the Neolithic period was characterized not by large agricultural settlements but by field monuments, such as causewayed enclosures, burial mounds and megalithic tombs.[38] The Corded Ware cultural horizon flourished at the transition from the Neolithic to the Chalcolithic. During this period giant megalithic monuments, such as the Megalithic Temples of Malta and Stonehenge, were constructed throughout Western and Southern Europe.[39][40] The European Bronze Age began circa 3200 BC in Greece.[41]

The European Iron Age began around 1200 BC.[42] Iron Age colonisation by the Greeks and Phoenicians gave rise to early Mediterranean cities. Early Iron Age Italy and Greece from around the 8th century BC gradually gave rise to historical Classical antiquity.
Classical antiquity
Main article: Classical antiquity
See also: Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome
The Greek Temple of Apollo, Paestum, Italy

Ancient Greece had a profound influence on Western civilisation. Western democratic and individualistic culture are often attributed to Ancient Greece.[43] The Greeks invented the polis, or city-state, which played a fundamental role in their concept of identity.[44] These Greek political ideals were rediscovered in the late 18th century by European philosophers and idealists. Greece also generated many cultural contributions: in philosophy, humanism and rationalism under Aristotle, Socrates and Plato; in history with Herodotus and Thucydides; in dramatic and narrative verse, starting with the epic poems of Homer;[43] in medicine with Hippocrates and Galen; and in science with Pythagoras, Euclid and Archimedes.[45][46][47]
The Roman Empire at its greatest extent

Another major influence came on Europe that would impact Western civilisation from the Roman Empire which left its mark on law, politics, language, engineering, architecture, government and many more aspects in western civilization.[48] During the pax romana, the Roman Empire expanded to encompass the entire Mediterranean Basin and much of Europe.[49]

Stoicism influenced Roman emperors such as Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius, who all spent time on the Empire's northern border fighting Germanic, Pictish and Scottish tribes.[50][51] Christianity was eventually legitimised by Constantine I after three centuries of imperial persecution.
Early Middle Ages
Main articles: Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages
See also: Dark Ages (historiography) and Age of Migrations
Roland pledges fealty to Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor.

During the decline of the Roman Empire, Europe entered a long period of change arising from what historians call the "Age of Migrations". There were numerous invasions and migrations amongst the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Goths, Vandals, Huns, Franks, Angles, Saxons, Slavs, Avars, Bulgars and, later still, the Vikings and Magyars.[49] Renaissance thinkers such as Petrarch would later refer to this as the "Dark Ages".[52] Isolated monastic communities were the only places to safeguard and compile written knowledge accumulated previously; apart from this very few written records survive and much literature, philosophy, mathematics, and other thinking from the classical period disappeared from Europe.[53]
Europe around 650

From the 7th century Byzantine history was greatly affected by the rise of Islam and the Caliphates. Muslim Arabs first invaded historically Roman territory under Abū Bakr, first Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate, who entered Roman Syria and Roman Mesopotamia. Under Umar, the second Caliph, the Muslims decisively conquered Syria and Mesopotamia, as well as Roman Palestine, Roman Egypt, and parts of Asia Minor and Roman North Africa. This trend continued under Umar's successors and under the Umayyad Caliphate, which conquered the rest of Mediterranean North Africa and most of the Iberian Peninsula. Over the next centuries Muslim forces were able to take further European territory, including Cyprus, Malta, Crete, and Sicily and parts of southern Italy.[54] In the East, Volga Bulgaria became an Islamic state in the tenth century.[55]

The Muslim conquest of Hispania began when the Moors (mostly Berbers with some Arabs) invaded the Christian Visigothic kingdom of Iberia in the year 711, under their Berber leader Tariq ibn Ziyad. They landed at Gibraltar on 30 April and worked their way northward. Tariq's forces were joined the next year by those of his superior, Musa ibn Nusair. During the eight-year campaign most of the Iberian Peninsula was brought under Muslim rule — save for small areas in the northwest (Asturias) and largely Basque regions in the Pyrenees. This territory, under the Arab name Al-Andalus, became part of the expanding Umayyad empire.

The unsuccessful second siege of Constantinople (717) weakened the Umayyad dynasty and reduced their prestige. After their success in overrunning Iberia, the conquerors moved northeast across the Pyrenees, but were defeated by the Frankish leader Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. The Umayyads were overthrown in 750 by the 'Abbāsids and most of the Umayyad clan massacred.

A surviving Umayyad prince, Abd-ar-rahman I, escaped to Spain and founded a new Umayyad dynasty in the Emirate of Cordoba, (756). Charles Martel's son, Pippin the Short retook Narbonne, and his grandson Charlemagne established the Marca Hispanica across the Pyrenees in part of what today is Catalonia, reconquering Girona in 785 and Barcelona in 801. The Umayyads in Spain proclaimed themselves caliphs in 929.

During the Dark Ages, the Western Roman Empire fell under the control of various tribes. The Germanic and Slav tribes established their domains over Western and Eastern Europe respectively.[56] Eventually the Frankish tribes were united under Clovis I.[57] Charlemagne, a Frankish king of the Carolingian dynasty who had conquered most of Western Europe, was anointed "Holy Roman Emperor" by the Pope in 800. This led to the founding of the Holy Roman Empire, which eventually became centred in the German principalities of central Europe.[58]

The predominantly Greek speaking Eastern Roman Empire became known in the West as the Byzantine Empire. Its capital was Constantinople. Emperor Justinian I presided over Constantinople's first golden age: he established a legal code, funded the construction of the Hagia Sophia and brought the Christian church under state control.[59] Fatally weakened by the sack of Constantinople in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, Byzantium fell in 1453 when it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Middle Ages
Main articles: High Middle Ages, Late Middle Ages, and Middle Ages
See also: Medieval demography

The economic growth of Europe around the year 1000, together with the lack of safety on the mainland trading routes, made possible the development of major commercial routes along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. In this context, the growing independence acquired by some coastal cities gave the Maritime Republics a leading role in the European scene.
Tancred of Sicily and Philip II of France, during the Third Crusade

The Middle Ages on the mainland were dominated by the two upper echelons of the social structure: the nobility and the clergy. Feudalism developed in France in the Early Middle Ages and soon spread throughout Europe.[72] A struggle for influence between the nobility and the monarchy in England led to the writing of the Magna Carta and the establishment of a parliament.[73] The primary source of culture in this period came from the Roman Catholic Church. Through monasteries and cathedral schools, the Church was responsible for education in much of Europe.[72]

The Papacy reached the height of its power during the High Middle Ages. An East-West Schism in 1054 split the former Roman Empire religiously, with the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire and the Roman Catholic Church in the former Western Roman Empire. In 1095 Pope Urban II called for a crusade against Muslims occupying Jerusalem and the Holy Land.[74] In Europe itself, the Church organised the Inquisition against heretics. In Spain, the Reconquista concluded with the fall of Granada in 1492, ending over seven centuries of Islamic rule in the Iberian Peninsula.[75]
The sacking of Suzdal by Batu Khan in 1238, during the Mongol invasion of Europe.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, constant incursions by nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Pechenegs and the Cuman-Kipchaks, caused a massive migration of Slavic populations to the safer, heavily forested regions of the north and temporarily halted the expansion of the Rus' state to the south and east.[76] Like many other parts of Eurasia, these territories were overrun by the Mongols.[77] The invaders, who became known as Tatars, were mostly Turkic under Mongol command. They established the state of the Golden Horde, which later adopted Islam as a religion and ruled over modern-day southern and central Russia for more than three centuries.[78][79]

The Great Famine of 1315–1317 was the first crisis that would strike Europe in the late Middle Ages.[80] The period between 1348 and 1420 witnessed the heaviest loss. The population of France was reduced by half.[81][82] Medieval Britain was afflicted by 95 famines,[83] and France suffered the effects of 75 or more in the same period.[84] Europe was devastated in the mid-14th century by the Black Death, one of the most deadly pandemics in human history which killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe alone—a third of the European population at the time.[85]

The plague had a devastating effect on Europe's social structure; it induced people to live for the moment as illustrated by Giovanni Boccaccio in The Decameron (1353). It was a serious blow to the Roman Catholic Church and led to increased persecution of Jews, foreigners, beggars and lepers.[86] The plague is thought to have returned every generation with varying virulence and mortalities until the 18th century.[87] During this period, more than 100 plague epidemics swept across Europe.[88]
Early modern period
Main article: Early modern period
See also: Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, Scientific Revolution, and Age of Discovery
The School of Athens by Raphael: Contemporaries such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci (centre) are portrayed as classical scholars
Battle of Vienna in 1683 broke the advance of the Ottoman Empire into Europe

The Renaissance was a period of cultural change originating in Florence and later spreading to the rest of Europe. in the 14th century. The rise of a new humanism was accompanied by the recovery of forgotten classical Greek and Arabic knowledge from monastic libraries, often re-translated from Arabic into Latin.[89][90][91] The Renaissance spread across Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries: it saw the flowering of art, philosophy, music, and the sciences, under the joint patronage of royalty, the nobility, the Roman Catholic Church, and an emerging merchant class.[92][93][94] Patrons in Italy, including the Medici family of Florentine bankers and the Popes in Rome, funded prolific quattrocento and cinquecento artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.[95][96]

Political intrigue within the Church in the mid-14th century caused the Great Schism. During this forty-year period, two popes—one in Avignon and one in Rome—claimed rulership over the Church. Although the schism was eventually healed in 1417, the papacy's spiritual authority had suffered greatly.[97]

The Church's power was further weakened by the Protestant Reformation (1517–1648), initially sparked by the works of German theologian Martin Luther, a result of the lack of reform within the Church. The Reformation also damaged the Holy Roman Empire's power, as German princes became divided between Protestant and Roman Catholic faiths.[98] This eventually led to the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), which crippled the Holy Roman Empire and devastated much of Germany, killing between 25 and 40 percent of its population.[99] In the aftermath of the Peace of Westphalia, France rose to predominance within Europe.[100] The 17th century in southern and eastern Europe was a period of general decline.[101] Eastern Europe experienced more than 150 famines in a 200-year period between 1501 to 1700.[102] In the 15th–18th centuries, when the disintegrating khanates of the Golden Horde were conquered by Russia, Tatars from the Crimean Khanate frequently raided Eastern Slavic lands to capture slaves.[103]

The Renaissance and the New Monarchs marked the start of an Age of Discovery, a period of exploration, invention, and scientific development.[104] Among the great figures of the Western scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries were Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Isaac Newton.[105] According to Peter Barrett, "It is widely accepted that 'modern science' arose in the Europe of the 17th century (towards the end of the Renaissance), introducing a new understanding of the natural world."[89] In the 15th century, Portugal and Spain, two of the greatest naval powers of the time, took the lead in exploring the world.[106][107] Christopher Columbus reached the New World in 1492, and soon after the Spanish and Portuguese began establishing colonial empires in the Americas.[108] France, the Netherlands and England soon followed in building large colonial empires with vast holdings in Africa, the Americas, and Asia.
18th and 19th centuries
Napoleon's retreat from Russia in 1812. Napoleon's Grande Armée had lost about half a million men.
Main article: Modern history
See also: Industrial Revolution, French Revolution, and Age of Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment was a powerful intellectual movement during the 18th century promoting scientific and reason-based thoughts.[109][110][111] Discontent with the aristocracy and clergy's monopoly on political power in France resulted in the French Revolution and the establishment of the First Republic as a result of which the monarchy and many of the nobility perished during the initial reign of terror.[112] Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power in the aftermath of the French Revolution and established the First French Empire that, during the Napoleonic Wars, grew to encompass large parts of Europe before collapsing in 1815 with the Battle of Waterloo.[113][114]

Napoleonic rule resulted in the further dissemination of the ideals of the French Revolution, including that of the nation-state, as well as the widespread adoption of the French models of administration, law, and education.[115][116][117] The Congress of Vienna, convened after Napoleon's downfall, established a new balance of power in Europe centred on the five "Great Powers": the United Kingdom, France, Prussia, Habsburg Austria, and Russia.[118]
The Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain

This balance would remain in place until the Revolutions of 1848, during which liberal uprisings affected all of Europe except for Russia and the United Kingdom. These revolutions were eventually put down by conservative elements and few reforms resulted.[119] In 1867, the Austro-Hungarian empire was formed; and 1871 saw the unifications of both Italy and Germany as nation-states from smaller principalities.[120] Likewise, in 1878 the Congress of Berlin has conveyed formal recognition to the de facto independent principalities of Montenegro, Serbia and Romania.

The Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain in the last part of the 18th century and spread throughout Europe. The invention and implementation of new technologies resulted in rapid urban growth, mass employment, and the rise of a new working class.[121] Reforms in social and economic spheres followed, including the first laws on child labour, the legalisation of trade unions,[122] and the abolition of slavery.[123] In Britain, the Public Health Act 1875 was passed, which significantly improved living conditions in many British cities.[124] Europe’s population increased from about 100 million in 1700 to 400 million by 1900.[125] In the 19th century, 70 million people left Europe in migrations to various European colonies abroad and to the United States.[126]
20th century to present
Main articles: Modern era and History of Europe
See also: World War I, Great Depression, Interwar period, World War II, Cold War, and History of the European Union
European military alliances just prior to the start of WWI

Two World Wars and an economic depression dominated the first half of the 20th century. World War I was fought between 1914 and 1918. It started when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip.[127] Most European nations were drawn into the war, which was fought between the Entente Powers (France, Belgium, Serbia, Portugal, Russia, the United Kingdom, and later Italy, Greece, Romania, and the United States) and the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire). The War left more than 16 million civilians and military dead.[128] Over 60 million European soldiers were mobilised from 1914–1918.[129]
Ruins of Guernica (1937). The Spanish Civil War claimed the lives of over 500,000 people.

Partly as a result of its defeat Russia was plunged into the Russian Revolution, which threw down the Tsarist monarchy and replaced it with the communist Soviet Union.[130] Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire collapsed and broke up into separate nations, and many other nations had their borders redrawn. The Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended World War I in 1919, was harsh towards Germany, upon whom it placed full responsibility for the war and imposed heavy sanctions.[131]

Economic instability, caused in part by debts incurred in the First World War and 'loans' to Germany played havoc in Europe in the late 1920s and 1930s. This and the Wall Street Crash of 1929 brought about the worldwide Great Depression. Helped by the economic crisis, social instability and the threat of communism, fascist movements developed throughout Europe placing Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany, Francisco Franco of Spain and Benito Mussolini of Italy in power.[132][133]

In 1933, Hitler became the leader of Germany and began to work towards his goal of building Greater Germany. Germany re-expanded and took back the Saarland and Rhineland in 1935 and 1936. In 1938, Austria became a part of Germany following the Anschluss. Later that year, following the Munich Agreement, Germany annexed the Sudetenland, which was a part of Czechoslovakia inhabited by ethnic Germans. At the time, Britain and France preferred a policy of appeasement.
Burned-out buildings in Hamburg, 1944 or 45

Shortly afterwards, Poland and Hungary started to press for the annexation of parts of Czechoslovakia with Polish and Hungarian majorities. Hitler encouraged the Slovaks to do the same and in early 1939, the remainder of Czechoslovakia was split into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, controlled by Germany, and the Slovak Republic, while other smaller regions went to Poland and Hungary. With tensions mounting between Germany and Poland over the future of Danzig, the Germans turned to the Soviets, and signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, prompting France and the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany on 3 September, opening the European Theatre of World War II.[134][135] The Soviet invasion of Poland started on 17 September and Poland fell soon thereafter.

On 24 September, the Soviet Union attacked the Baltic countries and later, Finland. The British hoped to land at Narvik and send troops to aid Finland, but their primary objective in the landing was to encircle Germany and cut the Germans off from Scandinavian resources. Nevertheless, the Germans knew of Britain's plans and got to Narvik first, repulsing the attack. Around the same time, Germany moved troops into Denmark, which left no room for a front except for where the last war had been fought or by landing at sea. The Phoney War continued.

In May 1940, Germany attacked France through the Low Countries. France capitulated in June 1940. However, the British refused to negotiate peace terms with the Germans and the war continued. By August Germany began a bombing offensive on Britain, but failed to convince the Britons to give up.[136] In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the ultimately unsuccessful Operation Barbarossa.[137] On 7 December 1941 Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into the conflict as allies of the British Empire and other allied forces.[138][139]
The "Big Three" at the Yalta Conference in 1945; seated (from the left): Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin

After the staggering Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, the German offensive in the Soviet Union turned into a continual fallback. In 1944, British and American forces invaded France in the D-Day landings, opening a new front against Germany. Berlin finally fell in 1945, ending World War II in Europe. The war was the largest and most destructive in human history, with 60 million dead across the world.[140] More than 40 million people in Europe had died as a result of the war by the time World War II ended,[141] including between 11 and 17 million people who perished during the Holocaust.[142] The Soviet Union lost around 27 million people during the war, about half of all World War II casualties.[143] By the end of World War II, Europe had more than 40 million refugees.[144] Several post-war expulsions in Central and Eastern Europe displaced a total of about 20 million people.[145]
The Schuman Declaration led to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community. It began the integration process of the European Union. (9 May 1950, at the French Foreign Ministry)

World War I and especially World War II diminished the eminence of Western Europe in world affairs. After World War II the map of Europe was redrawn at the Yalta Conference and divided into two blocs, the Western countries and the communist Eastern bloc, separated by what was later called by Winston Churchill an "Iron Curtain". The United States and Western Europe established the NATO alliance and later the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe established the Warsaw Pact.[146]

The two new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, became locked in a fifty-year long Cold War, centred on nuclear proliferation. At the same time decolonisation, which had already started after World War I, gradually resulted in the independence of most of the European colonies in Asia and Africa.[6] In the 1980s the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev and the Solidarity movement in Poland accelerated the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the end of the Cold War. Germany was reunited, after the symbolic fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the maps of Eastern Europe were redrawn once more.[132]

European integration also grew after World War II. The Treaty of Rome in 1957 established the European Economic Community between six Western European states with the goal of a unified economic policy and common market.[147] In 1967 the EEC, European Coal and Steel Community and Euratom formed the European Community, which in 1993 became the European Union. The EU established a parliament, court and central bank and introduced the euro as a unified currency.[148] In 2004 and 2007, more Eastern European countries began joining, expanding the EU to its current size of 27 European countries, and once more making Europe a major economical and political centre of power.


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Anika Devi received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University in 2012. She began freelancing for Business Solutions BD in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor.
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